Lesson #5: Always bring backup.
We were heading to a big theme park outing one morning, when my co-leader showed up really sick. I told him, “You don’t need to come. Go home and get some rest.” I unwisely thought one adult could handle six middle schoolers alone.
And so begins the story of the time I lost a kid at Raging Waters– one of the low points of my entire ministry.
I told all the kids that it was really important to stay together. It wasn’t more than ten minutes before I had lost two kids. Then that scattered to even more. I was left with a dilemma: How do you keep track of those you’ve got at the same time as you find those you haven’t?
It had taken me most of the morning to round up all the kids but one. Fortunately we had set a particular time to meet up for lunch, but it was now way past that time and this kid was still nowhere to be found. I was so, so mad. As I took the kids I had back to the van to give them sandwiches, and I was thinking, “Oh my goodness. How am I going to go back and tell a parent that I lost their kid?”
In the van, we prayed and then I turned around to look all of the kids in the eyes. I said to them in very quiet voice, “I am so disappointed in you.” I talked about how they weren’t responsive and they weren’t focused and how we still had to find the person who was lost. Thankfully, we found her shortly after lunch. She was fine, and had wandered off with another group of kids. But it could have been horrible, and the experience did necessitate a follow up meeting with the parents and the pastor.
However, one of the more rambunctious middle schoolers, who had a horrific home life, came home that day so excited. He said, “I saw Pastor Bob mad and he didn’t yell or anything!” That was his first experience with controlled, righteous anger, and his respect for me went up dramatically that day. These kids know how to ignore yelling. They get yelled at all the time. So I was careful, whenever I got angry, to lower my voice instead of raise it and stay under control. And for a lot of these kids, boy did that ever hit home. Another kid even apologized to me about the incident a day later.
But I learned an important lesson that day too. Never do an outing with middle school kids unless you have another adult with you. The whole situation could have been averted if I’d had another person to stay with the kids we had while I went to look the ones who were lost. Always bring backup.